President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that France will end Operation Barkhane but that French troops would remain as part of a larger international effort against Islamic terror groups. Barkhane was battling Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region of West Africa.

He added that France would announce details “in the weeks to come.” Further, he voiced his frustration over the lack of the G5 Sahel governments taking responsibility for their own security issues.

“The time has come to begin a deep transformation of our military presence in the Sahel. The continuation of our commitment in the Sahel cannot be in the same way. We are going, with our partners by our side but also with countries in the region… to draw conclusions on what worked… and what didn’t,” Macron said to the news media.

Political Instability and Home-front Frustration

In France, there has been growing frustration among the population that the country is locked into a long-term war and bears the brunt of the fighting that shows no sign of ending.

Additionally, with the majority of France’s 5,100 soldiers in the region located in the former French colony of Mali, the political instability of the country also contributed to Macron’s decision.

Macron’s decision comes just days after the Malian army conducted the second coup in less than a year, detaining and then forcing the resignation of President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and the defense minister.

Task Force Takuba
An operator from SOF Task Force Takuba coordinates an airstrike with a French Mirage jet in the Sahel. (French Ministry of Defense)

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were further incensed that Mali was attempting to negotiate with global terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. 

After the second Malian coup and the reports of the negotiation with the terrorist groups, Macron had temporarily suspended military operations with the Malian military

A Transformation of the French Presence in the Sahel

France had also created the Joint Special Operations Task Force “Takuba” which consists of 13 countries. Takuba trains, advises, and fights alongside the G5 Sahel countries. Henceforth, French SOF operating through TF Takuba are to be “the backbone” of the continuing effort, according to Macron. 

Macron said that he will consult with European and American partners and initiate a “profound transformation” of the French military presence in the Sahel.

Islamic insurgents in Mali
Islamic insurgents in Mali continue to exert pressure on the Sahel nations. (Reuters photo)

“This transformation will translate into a model change” with a “new framework” which means “the end of Barkhane as an external operation, to allow for an operation of support and cooperation with armies in the countries of the Sahel region that ask for it,” Macron said. Currently, American support is limited to logistics and intelligence but Macron has frequently asked Washington to take a more active role. 

Operation Barkhane would be replaced by “a military operation and an international alliance, associating countries in the region with all our partners, strictly limited to the fight against terrorism,” Macron added.

“The long-term presence of France in external operations cannot be a substitute to the return of the State and services of the State to the political stability and choice of sovereign states” in the region, Macron said.

“We cannot secure zones that fall back into instability because states decide not to take their own responsibility. It’s impossible.”

Despite French forces being involved in the region since 2013, the Islamic insurgency continues to thrive in the outlying areas of the Sahel countries where there is a noticeable lack of governance. The Sahel countries have done little to counter the factors that make the terrorist groups more attractive to young people.